Pediatricians have known for years that babies who are breastfed have a lower incidence of  upper respiratory infections involving the nose, ears, sinuses, and throat.  The longer a mother breastfeeds, the longer this benefit lasts — well into childhood and, perhaps, beyond.  Yesterday, we looked at how breastfed babies learn to prefer healthier food choices as they get older, which has enormous implications on the prevention of obesity when compared to their formula-fed counterparts.

A series of studies in this month’s Pediatrics Supplement demonstrates that breastfeeding and bottle-feeding are not equivalent when it comes to children’s eating behaviors as they get older.  Linda Carroll highlights one study:

A study that focused on bottle-fed infants highlighted a more subtle advantage to breast-feeding: Moms who bottle-feed may be more apt to push their babies to consume more food than they need. In that study, researchers found that moms who encouraged infants to finish their bottles were more likely to also encourage 6-year-olds to finish everything on their plates.

The explanation: Moms who breast-feed are less likely to push their infants to continue to drink once babies indicate they’ve had enough, said Dr. Karen Marie Puopolo, an expert unaffiliated with the new study and section chief of neonatology at Pennsylvania Hospital.

“When a child is at the breast there is a natural level of self-regulation,” Puopolo said. “It’s very difficult to overfeed. But when you can see that there is milk left in the bottle it’s hard to get beyond that thought, ‘Oh dear, he didn’t finish.’”


In another important study examining the association of sugar-sweetened beverages and the growing crisis of childhood obesity, Carroll expresses surprise at how many parents feed their infants sugary drinks:

One finding that surprised the researchers themselves was that parents were still giving infants sugary drinks. “It was surprising to find that 27 percent of infants had been fed sugar-sweetened beverages at some point during their infancy,” said Dr. Liping Pan, lead author of a study on sugar-sweetened beverages and an epidemiologist in the obesity prevention branch of the CDC. “And almost 9 percent had given sugar-sweetened beverages before their infants were 6 months old.”

Pan and her colleagues found that children who consumed sugary beverages three or more times a week at 10 to 12 months of age had twice the risk of obesity as 6-year-olds compared to those who drank no sugar-sweetened beverages in infancy.

Puopolo suspects that part of the problem may be that parents haven’t fully digested the idea that fruit juices are simply “candy water.”

Fruit, on the other hand, with the fiber it contains is a very healthy addition to the diets of both infants and growing children, Puopolo said.


All these studies show that children learn about food beginning early in infancy, and what they learn — good and bad — can literally last a lifetime.  It is up to parents, grandparents, and other caregivers to set good examples and teach newborns, infants, and children good eating habits.  Children don’t figure this stuff out on their own.  Their parents teach them — by being good role models primarily, and also by setting limits (remember: “nothing” is a healthy snack choice if the apple is refused).

The results of these studies should surprise no one.  Teaching good nutrition shouldn’t be hard, unless you’re starting your day eating Chocolate-Frosted Sugar Bombs cereal.